Ranjita Basumatary does not look much like a witch. Outside her home in Udalguri, a dusty town set amid the sun-baked plains of India’s north-eastern state of Assam, she hangs a green gamosa scarf around your correspondent’s neck and invites him in for tea to talk about witchcraft in Assam. Five years ago, in early 2007, Mrs Basumatary was driven from her original home in a nearby village after her neighbours accused her of being a dain—the local term for a witch. Around 100 villagers surrounded her home and beat her with sticks, leaving her badly bloodied and bruised. After receiving death threats she fled, accompanied by her husband and her three young children.
In the case of Mrs Basumatary, a devout Christian who does not believe in witchcraft, some local jealousy seems to have prompted the accusations. Her family had prospered and leased livestock to other villagers. This led to resentment. When children in the village fell sick, the ojha accused Mrs Basumatary of casting spells, after his own charms, potions and mantras had failed.